Step-by-step process: Michigan High School Athletic Association issues, updates guidelines in last week for return to high school sports

By STEVE BROWNLEE
Journal Sports Editor
EAST LANSING — The Michigan High School Athletic Association — the governing body for high school sports in the state — has issued and updated guidelines for returning to school sports during the past week.
The MHSAA is made up of more than 1,500 public and private schools in Michigan, including about 750 high schools.
Guidelines were first issued last Friday, then updated Tuesday for high schools, middle schools and junior highs to reintroduce competitive sports that were suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. All winter sports still conducting tournaments, including hockey and boys and girls basketball, had their seasons ended, while spring sports were subsequently suspended. The end of those seasons was made official on April 3.
Because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Safer-At-Home order that was originally effective through June 12, no school facilities could be used, indoors or outdoors, until then. That included organized on-site athletic activities, both conditioning and competition, unless the order was lifted or it expired.
Her order was amended on Monday, making for more possible activity, including use of outdoor school facilities.
Return-to-activity recommendations to be implemented locally by school district leaders were issued by the MHSAA in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committees.
“We were excited and encouraged by Gov. Whitmer’s announcements Monday,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in the Tuesday news release. “The opportunity for outside gatherings of up to 100 allowed us to rework a number of guidelines that we had published (last) Friday as part of the MHSAA/NFHS reopening document.
“Our schools have been cautiously eager to take this long-awaited first step. We will continue to provide updates in accordance with the governor’s directives for reopening the state, always prioritizing safety for all involved in school sports programs.”
First, a district must declare its facilities open to students and staff and its 2019-20 school year must have ended based on its last originally scheduled school day.
Outdoor groups of up to 100 are now allowed with social distancing by Whitmer’s new order, but competition still isn’t allowed at this point. Workouts and practices are allowed, though, with the under-100 limit and physical distancing.
Use of restrooms and other indoor facilities has been strongly discouraged except with proper cleaning and physical distancing.
Balls may be used among groups of participants, but participants should clean such common equipment as permitted and continue to social distance and maintain proper hygiene, including washing hands and not touching their faces.
The MHSAA said on Tuesday that the most accurate answer to the question “What step are schools on?” is Step 2 for outdoor activities — thanks to the ability to have gatherings of up to 100 participants — while indoor activities will start at Step 1 if gatherings of only 10 or fewer are allowed. Guidelines will continue to be updated based on directives from Whitmer’s office.
The 12-page “MHSAA/NFHS Guidance to Re-Opening School Sports” also includes plans and strategies from the state of Michigan, federal government, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
The guidelines recommend a three-step process to return to full athletic participation, each step including five major areas — preworkout-contest screening of athletes and coaches for sickness, limitations on participant numbers who are involved in a gathering, proper cleaning of facilities, use of equipment during activity, and best practices for keeping participants safely hydrated.
The plan also places sports into categories based on the risk for transmitting the virus — low, moderate or high — with these steps adjusted to their level of risk.
“The MHSAA and its Representative Council believe restarting school sports is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students, and the guidelines outlined for schools … provide the ‘how’ for schools to return to athletics when they’ve received the go-ahead from state and county health officials,” Uyl said last week.
“We are thankful for our state government, state education and health departments, our medical partners and the NFHS for their guidance … and we will continue to follow and pass on their recommendations as we prepare our schools to bring back this part of student life that’s been sorely missed.”
When the MHSAA recommendations were issued a week ago, only individual, outdoor recreational activities were allowed athletically, including walking, hiking and running, per a Whitmer executive order.
Voluntary virtual — not in-person — communication and instruction from coaches to any number of students is permitted by the MHSAA in all sports throughout the summer.
Guidelines were aimed to provide direction for schools as they continue to limit potential exposure to respiratory droplets, which has shown to be the primary avenue for transferring coronavirus. Specifically, the MHSAA/NFHS plan addresses social distancing, use of cloth and other face coverings, event scheduling and transportation, and the possibility that schools may have to break from or completely discontinue activity, including competition during the fall or winter, because of new outbreaks.
The original document in full is available from the MHSAA website at https://www.mhsaa.com/Portals/0/Documents/AD%20Forms/Guidance%205-29-20.pdf.
Tuesday’s update is available at https://www.mhsaa.com/Portals/0/Documents/AD%20Forms/MHSAA%20Summer%20Guidance%20Update%201.pdf.
The MHSAA said it will provide further updates online available at https://www.mhsaa.com/coronavirus.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

Michigan State University athlete tests positive for coronavirus after father dies

EAST LANSING (AP) — Michigan State says a student-athlete’s father died of COVID-19 and the athlete tested positive but remained asymptomatic.
Athletic director Bill Beekman was part of a video conference Thursday to discuss the school’s plans to have athletes back on campus. When asked if any athlete or athletic department personnel had tested positive in the past three months, Beekman said nobody that he was aware of — but that he might not necessarily have all the information.
Dr. Jeffrey Kovan, the school’s director of sports medicine, was also part of the video conference. He quickly said that one student-athlete had tested positive, his father died, and his mother and sister also tested positive. Kovan said the athlete was asymptomatic and retested negative a few weeks later. His identity nor sport was revealed.
Michigan State athletes can begin returning to campus June 15 in preparation for voluntary workouts. Football, basketball and volleyball players will be the first to undergo testing.

Central Michigan University receives NCAA waiver for cutbacks in sports

MOUNT PLEASANT (AP) — Central Michigan says it has received a waiver from the NCAA regarding the minimum Division I sports sponsorship requirements.
Division I schools are not supposed to have fewer than six sports for male athletes. CMU announced last month it was dropping men’s track and field, citing university-wide budget cuts. That leaves the school with five men’s teams — baseball, basketball, cross country, football and wrestling.
“This waiver has been granted for the 2020-21 and the 2021-22 academic years,” athletic director Michael Alford said in a statement.

Illitch Detroit-based companies work to produce protective masks

DETROIT (AP) — The Ilitch companies — a group that includes the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, along with Little Caesars and other companies — has opened a facility in the Detroit area to produce protective masks.
Employees from across the organization are helping with the effort, which will try to produce about 60,000 masks per day.
“I’m from Detroit. To be able to give back to the city that I was born in and give back to a city that has given so much to me is important,” said Reginald Woods, a ticket sales representative for the Tigers and Red Wings. “To continue the Tigers’ and Red Wings’ legacy of giving back to Detroit is special.”
The masks will be donated to community groups and organizations that need them, as well as employees, franchises, customers, fans and guests.
“To design, set up and activate a production facility like what we have here in less than two months is truly impressive,” said Eric Brasseur, who is overseeing the facility. “This was made possible by the collective efforts and adaptability of employees across our family of companies.î”

Detroit Tigers ready to pick 1st in shortened Major League Baseball amateur draft

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball’s shortened amateur draft will remain at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the first round on June 10.
MLB shortened the selections to five rounds and 160 picks in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, by far the fewest since the draft started in 1965. Before the pandemic, the draft had been scheduled to take place at Omaha, Nebraska, ahead of the now-canceled College World Series.
Clubs were able to reduce the draft as part of their March 26 agreement with the players’ association. The combined value of their signing bonus pools is nearly $236 million and the amount of signing bonus pool money eliminated is close to $30 million.
The first 37 picks will take place on the opening day and the remainder on June 11. The deadline for selected players to sign was pushed back from July 10 to Aug. 1.
Detroit picks first, followed by Baltimore, Miami and Kansas City.
Houston was stripped of its first- and second-round selections as part of MLB penalties for using a video camera to steal catcher’s signs. Boston lost its second-round selection for improper use of video.
Baseball’s draft was long held by conference call at the commissioner’s office in New York. The draft was moved to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for 2007 and 2008.
Residents of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are subject to the draft.
As part of the agreement with the union, slot values to determine signing bonus pools will remain at 2019 levels and players passed over in the draft are limited to signing bonuses of $20,000. That might cause more high school players to go to college.
All but six of last year’s sixth-round picks signed for $200,000 or more. Chicago Cubs catcher/first baseman Ethan Hearn had the highest bonus of the round at $950,000.
Among 1,082 players who were in a big league game last year after coming through the draft, 180 were first-round picks and 589 were selected during the first five rounds, according to the commissioner’s office.
As part of the deal with the union, teams have the right to cut the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. That fits in MLB’s proposal to cut their minimum minor league affiliations from 160 to 120 in 2021, allowing each organization to drop one farm team.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Nick Ramirez throws to first base after fielding a ground ball from the Houston Astros during the sixth inning of a spring training game on March 9 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP file photo)

Big 10 Network’s charity runs to go virtual

CHICAGO — The Big Ten Network’s Big 10K running races will be held in a virtual format this summer.
Set for July 26, runners can partake in a five-kilometer or 10K run from wherever they live.
Participants can run through their neighborhood, on a treadmill, through their local parks or on their favorite trail before uploading the results on the event’s website, www.btnbig10k.com. Photos can also be shared there and a finisher’s certificate can be downloaded through Aug. 1.
Registration is available at the same website for $20 that gets runners a school-specific shirt, Big 10 “B1G”-branded running buff/headband, race bib and certificate. Registration is open through July 10, and for those who can’t race on July 26, the virtual race is open for the following week.
Race packets will be mailed to runners prior to race day, which includes a virtual sponsor goodie bag.
The Big Ten Network and the Big Ten are supporting three charities through this year’s event — ALIVE Rescue, Special Olympics Chicago and Feeding America. During registration, participants will have the option of donating directly to these charities, too.
Participants are also encouraged to send and receive updates on the BTN Big 10K group on Facebook.

USA Luge promotes Ironwood native

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Robert Fegg is taking over as coach of USA Luge’s national team, the organization said Wednesday.
As part of those moves, Pat Anderson, 39, of Ironwood was promoted to junior national team head coach.
Fegg replaces Bill Tavares, who has been the team’s head coach since 2017. Tavares has been with USA Luge since 2010 and will remain on the coaching staff.
Fegg has spent the past two years as head coach of USA Luge’s junior national team. He is a native of Germany, makes his home in Calgary and also has coached the Canadian and South Korean teams.
Tavares has coached medal winners in each of the last five Olympic Winter Games — with the U.S. women’s bobsled team in 2002, 2006 and 2010, then Erin Hamlin’s luge bronze in 2014 and Chris Mazdzer’s luge silver in 2018.
The World Cup and Junior World Cup seasons are scheduled to begin in November.

Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman: Jeff Blashill to stay as NHL team’s head coach

By LARRY LAGE
AP Hockey Writer
Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman is keeping coach Jeff Blashill despite another lackluster season.
Yzerman told reporters on Wednesday his previously announced plans to keep Blashill behind the bench have not changed. Blashill’s record over five seasons in Detroit is 153-194-52.
The NHL abandoned the rest of the regular season on Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic. It plans to hold a 24-team playoff if the league is able to resume play.
Detroit had a league-low 17 wins in its 71-game season. Every team in the NHL had at least 23 more points than the Red Wings, and the NHL-best Boston Bruins had 61 more.
The decision to go straight to the playoffs ended the season for the Red Wings along with six other teams.
Yzerman decided to keep Blashill last year when the Hall of Fame player returned to Detroit. He was supportive of him throughout another rebuilding season.
Former Wings GM Ken Holland gave Blashill a two-year extension in 2019, keeping him under contract through the 2021-22 season.

State House OKs bills to pay college athletes

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — Colleges athletes could be paid for the use of their names, images or likeness rights under bipartisan legislation approved Wednesday by the Michigan House, which overwhelmingly sent the bills to the Senate for consideration.
The measures would prohibit in-state schools, the NCAA and athletic conferences from blocking student-athletes from being compensated. They also would no longer make it a crime for agents to enter into contracts with student-athletes.
The NCAA, pressured by states that started acting on their own, is drawing up new rules to let athletes become paid sponsors — able to earn money for their names, images and likenesses without compromising their eligibility.
“This is all about treating all students fairly, including our student-athletes,” said a sponsor, Rep. Brandt Iden of Kalamazoo County’s Oshtemo Township, who played tennis at Kalamazoo College. “This long overdue reform will ensure they have the ability to go out and promote themselves — using their likeness or image — to make a few extra dollars, just like their classmates are allowed to do.
He said the change “should have been made years ago nationwide, but Michigan simply cannot wait on the NCAA to get its act together any longer.”
Another bill sponsor, Democratic Rep. Joe Tate of Detroit, played football at Michigan State University and in the NFL. He has said players are the driving force behind billions in revenue for the NCAA, universities and colleges.
The legislation largely would take effect starting in 2023. The bills passed on 94-13 and 95-12 votes in the GOP-led chamber.

State Reps. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, left, and Brandt Iden, R-Ostemo, announce the introduction of bills that would let college athletes be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness on Nov. 6 at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing. The plan is modeled after a law that was recently enacted in California. (AP file photo)

Detroit Pistons begin search for general manager

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Pistons are beginning a search for a candidate who could became the team’s general manager, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not announced its plans. Ed Stefanski, a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores, has been running basketball operations for the Pistons and will remain as the team’s top basketball executive. Detroit is moving toward adding a general manager to the front office as well.
The GM spot for the Pistons has been vacant since the team overhauled its front office two years ago. Stan Van Gundy had been the team’s coach and team president, with Jeff Bower serving as GM. After the Pistons moved on from Van Gundy in 2018, Stefanski took over the front office and Dwane Casey became the coach.
Detroit hired Malik Rose as an assistant general manager in 2018, but there has been no official GM.
The Pistons made the playoffs last season but were 20-46 in 2019-20 when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus.